Remembering Civil Rights Activist Rev. Willie Barrow

The Rev. Willie T. Barrow, an advocate for civil rights and social justice, passed away Thursday after a long illness. She was 90. She spent her life fighting for the rights of minorities, the LGBT community, women and union members.

Barrow was born December 17, 1924 in Burton, Texas. She settled in Chicago in 1943 with her husband, Clyde Barrow. An associate of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., she worked on the 1963 March on Washington and the 1965 March on Selma. Barrow helped the Rev. Jesse Jackson found Operation Breadbasket on the South Side in the mid-1960s; that organization evolved into Rainbow/PUSH. She served as executive director of Operation PUSH for five years, the first woman to lead the organization. She also worked on the election campaigns of Mayor Harold Washington and President Obama.

Barrow was a founding member of Vernon Park Church of God, where the Revs. Addie Wyatt and Claude Wyatt were co-pastors. Addie Wyatt and Barrow became great friends as both played important roles in the civic and religious life of black Chicago.

The Chicago Public Library’s Vivian G. Harsh Collection of Afro-American History and Literature holds the Rev. Addie and Rev. Claude Wyatt Papers. That finding guide, a detailed description of the collection, has more about Addie Wyatt and Willie Barrow.